Edie grabbed the note hastily. Her fingers were almost shaking. She looked around to make sure no one was watching her, then leaned against the building to unfold the paper.
For a second she didn’t recognize what was on the paper as writing and stared at it as a whole, trying to make sense of it as a drawing. Then she realized that Leila’s handwriting was just very narrow and cursive—it looked old-fashioned, like the style of writing that had been in vogue centuries before—but that it was neat and readable if she focused.
Edith, it read.
Please meet me in the orchard at four o’clock. I will be waiting. I wish to see you, so do not be late.
Edie read the note again, then snatched her phone out of her pocket to check the time. She had more than fifteen minutes to meet Leila. She breathed a sigh of relief that she wasn’t going to be late.
Should she wait until it was actually four to go there? She didn’t know when Leila would be arriving, and it would be nice to drop her backpack off in her room so she didn’t have to lug it around with Leila.
But if Leila was already at the orchard, Edie didn’t want to make her wait for too long. She should at least go check. She stuffed the note into her pocket, adjusted her backpack on her shoulders, and headed over to the orchard.
She was surprised by how she felt stepping into the small stand of trees; despite the shade of the trees, which were in full leaf and flower, it felt a few degrees warmer in here than outside of it. Was Leila doing some magic to warm it, to help the trees grow better?
Leila was indeed there already, standing with her face to a tree. Edie took a step closer. “Leila?”
Leila turned and smiled at her. Her hand was pressed against the tree’s trunk; maybe she was doing some kind of magic. She might have to be, Edie realized, to make the trees so lush and full after the way Belara and Mardalan had tried to poison them last fall. Had they looked this healthy a few weeks ago? Edie couldn’t remember.
“Edith,” Leila said warmly. “I see you received my note.”
“Yes,” Edie said, smiling and taking another step forward. “What did you want to… wait a minute.” A connection sparked in her mind.
Leila dropped her hand from the tree trunk and held out both hands, palms up, to Edie. “Yes?”
Edie reluctantly placed her hands in Leila’s. “My theater class. People were being almost normal to me again. Including Sol. You said you wouldn’t bother him…”
Leila’s smile widened and sharpened. “And I certainly did not. I never break my word.”
Edie frowned. “What did you do?”
“I spoke to Chris.”
“She doesn’t… does she remember you?” If Chris had remembered Leila, then maybe Elrath was doing something to the campus magic.
“No, she does not remember our friendship. But there are other ways to make someone understand you.” Leila slid one hand up Edie’s arm to her shoulder. “Come, let us sit.”
“You didn’t use magic on her, did you?” Edie’s gut twisted with anxiety. She really didn’t like Chris, but she also couldn’t think of anyone she disliked enough to want their memories to be tampered with.
Leila frowned. “I did not alter her memories, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Edie took a deep breath, wanting to ask Leila to be clear about whether she had or had not used magic on Chris, then all at once decided that she didn’t want to push it. Leila had asked her to meet her for a reason, and it was time to find out what that reason was.
She let her breath out in a sigh. “All right. What did you want to talk about?”
Leila didn’t answer right away, but guided her down, so that they were sitting with their shoulders against a tree—it wasn’t wide enough for them to put their backs against it. Edie took off her backpack and settled it on the ground behind her. Holding Leila’s hand, in the warm orchard, she was surprisingly comfortable.
“Edie,” Leila said, “I have decided that I cannot stay at this school.”
Edie gasped, twisting so she could see Leila’s face. “No!”
“I could not leave without speaking to you first,” Leila said, continuing as though she hadn’t heard Edie’s outburst. Her eyes were calm. “But there is no one else here I care for enough to explain myself.”
Edie stared at her. “But you—you can’t leave, can you? Where will you go?”
Leila shook her head. “That is not for you to know. Not only because it is secret, but because it is impossible for you to understand. I know that you are part faerie, but you are mostly human, and the human mind cannot do all things.”
Edie blinked back tears. There had to be some way to convince Leila to stay. “You… there’s… Elrath! He’s going to change the magic. Then you can stay.”